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Cytotoxic drugs

Cytotoxic drugs (sometimes known as antineoplastics) describe a group of medicines that contain chemicals which are toxic to cells,. Cytotoxic drugs inhibit or prevent the function of cells. Cytotoxic drugs are primarily used to treat cancer, frequently as part of a chemotherapy regime. Recently, their uses have expanded to treat certain skin conditions (e.g., psoriasis), rheumatoid and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and steroid-resistant muscle conditions. The most common forms of cytotoxic drugs are known as antineoplastic. The terms ‘antineoplastic’ and ‘cytotoxic’ are often used interchangeably. Cytotoxic drugs have also been associated with negative health effects for developing fetuses, including higher incidences of spontaneous abortions, congenital malformations, low birth weight, and infertility. As part of any cytotoxic exposure reduction plan, protective reassignment for a worker who is pregnant, breastfeeding or intends to conceive a child must be put in place.

Cytotoxic drugs are used widely in healthcare settings as well as in the community in the treatment of cancers as well as other diseases.  This page provides information to employers and employees on the occupational hazards associated with cytotoxic drugs and the precautions to take when handling them. It is not aimed at manufacturers of cytotoxic drugs. 

Cytotoxic drugs (sometimes known as antineoplastics) describe a group of medicines that contain chemicals which are toxic to cells, preventing their replication or growth, and so are used to treat cancer. They can also be used to treat a number of other disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Once inside the body, their action is not generally tightly targeted, and they can produce side effects both to the patients and others who become exposed.

They are used in range of settings including; hospitals, specialist oncology units, hospices, care homes, charitable organisations, and domestic homes. They may also be used in veterinary clinics.